A cable railway with small carriages, popularly known as “eggs”, would make most people think of ski resorts, perhaps some would recall the Expo, but hardly anyone would place the egg-shaped gondolas in South American slums. But that is precisely where they are, smack dab in the middle of Caracas slums, where an Austrian cable railway was set up earlier this year. Cable cars that transport skiers across the Alps transport poor people across Caracas.
Caracas is the second city in South America following Medellin to set up a cable railway as public transportation. The cities of Latin America have significantly different priorities than European cities. In Caracas, 60% of its 5 million inhabitants live in the slums. Alongside other difficulties, uncontrolled development has created a transportation problem; densely developed steep hills are inaccessible to any kind of transportation, let alone a public one. Certain areas can only be reached by narrow stairs, meaning that only those who are physically able and healthy can leave their homes to go to work. The only way to connect such hills to other parts of the city is – a cable railway.
Behind this innovative system called Metro Cable is the Urban-Think Tank (U-TT) studio headed by Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner with offices in Caracas, Sao Paolo, New York and Zurich. Metro Cable connects San Agustin, one of the oldest wild settlements, to the city’s subway. Around 40.000 people use the system daily. The return ticket is a mere 2 Brazilian Reals, so every day 50 gondolas transport people previously excluded from city projects. The cable railway project is the result of Austrian, Brazilian and French technology, and it cost more than 262 million dollars.
The project can be viewed at the New York MoMa exhibition Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement from October 3, 2010 till January 3, 2011.
The approach of the U-TT studio is a continuation of Team X (Jaap Bakema, Georges Candilis, Giancarlo De Carlo, Aldo van Eyck, Alison and Peter Smithson, Shadrach Woods) vision of the architect as an involved interpreter of community needs. Brillembourg and Klumpner advocate more politics, more economic reality, and more complexity in architecture. Metro Cable is a project that not only solves a community problem, but also helps the people of San Agustin to be a part of a developing community. The fact that anything can now be seen from above has lowered the crime rate, confirming the idea that safety is not achieved through repression. It is, somewhat unexpectedly, achieved by ski lifts.
Photos above were taken by Iwan Baan
Photos above were taken by Steven Dale
*Sky lift in Medellin
* Doppelmayer Ski-lift
For more on the project, visit the studio’s web pages.